A Ghost Story
Directed by David Lowery, Produced by Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, Adam Donaghey, Written by David Lowery
Cast, Casey Affleck as C, Rooney Mara as M, Will Oldham as Prognosticator, Sonia Acevedo as Maria, Rob Zabrecky as Pioneer Man, Liz Franke as Linda, Grover Coulson as Man in Wheelchair, Kenneisha Thompson as Doctor, Barlow Jacobs as Gentleman Caller, McColm Sephas Jr. as Little Boy, Kesha as Spirit Girl.
Music by Daniel Hart, Cinematography Andrew Droz Palermo, Edited by David Lowery, Production company Sailor Bear, Zero Trans Fat Productions, Ideaman Studios, Scared Sheetless. Duration, 1hr 37mins. Country, United States, Language English. Rating 12a.
Unconventional and Astonishing
Classic literature and cinema as varied as Virginia Woolf and “Beetlejuice.” “Poltergeist” inhabit this film.
This is as good a ghost story as your ever likely to see. Not that it’s a conventional form of the horror genre some taking a straight read from the title might anticipate. It is highly original and dependant on your immersion into its delivery as the tautly drawn characters of the two principles, Rooney Mara as M and Cassey Affleck as C portray the sadness of loss which pulls apart their life as it edges forward with expectations and a highly developed bond halted by arbitrary cruelty.
With a simple device of a costume, in A Ghost Story, David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon) is able to fix on place as an integral point of storytelling narrative. Things happen here in a plot development. Beyond the central presence of the Ghost which is C, Casey Affleck there is a scoping out of place and locality in this borough within Texas. Corporate America even has a small role. Fundamentally it explores the universe as well as being reliant on the sciences of otherness available with an eye to see, the night sky. Here it is intensified like a kaleidoscopic moving tableau, like rain in suspension but a surreality we are cosmically involved with some way or other.
Haunted House some quotes from the Director.
Huffington Post Matthew Jacobs note. “A Ghost Story” opens with a quote from “A Haunted House,” a Virginia Woolf story that captures an entire lifetime of experiences in fewer than 700 words. “Whatever hour you woke there was a door shutting,” a black screen declares within the first few minutes. Woolf’s paragraph continues thusly: “From room to room they went, hand in hand, lifting here, opening there, making sure―a ghostly couple.”
“Virginia Woolf’s literature really transformed my own ideas about how to formally represent the passage of time and how time affects us,” Lowery said. “Specifically, the benchmarks are Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and Orlando, all of which have time as a central conceit.”
Other people pass through
There are parallax views. One story within the story is of an occupant of the house, a single Spanish speaking mother who is herself confronted by a ghost. Her children encounter the disturbance of C presenting himself with only the boy initially seeing this being. They possibly have a backstory which is perhaps their father as the presence which is their own manifestation of the unreal other world beyond their life boundary. Only later will it become evident, a house can have competing ghosts. Also nearby in the house next door is a lost spirit Ghost who has no perception of why the place they are in is of their history. History is mentioned and M who provides many percussive notes, like tiny bells being hit and signalling to you pellets of knowledge to be taken and consumed. For History C declares its place in his feelings for the house. M alternatively connects, ‘is got history, not as much as you think.’ This in fact is like a mutation. In the story this place has several visitors, from frontierspeople, the hopeful Europeans in search of Gods land. The Real Estate entrepreneurs making a new kingdom – which C visits and observes from foundation stone to its topping out. This is the same place.
A vision appears here of a future landscape with Corporate identities fresh and graphic lighting in colour and multiple skyscraping buildings a city advanced on the adjustments made by time. Sure it has history but it is not one of connection except through sentiment. There is a science where a note is left under a stone. There is another where a note is slid behind the architrave of the house M and C lived in on a frame which is adjacent to a continual natural, unreal shadow refraction which both caressing their minds. People it is observed like to leave elements behind for others to find. There is not much dialogue and in the beginning as the couple first get out of their small double bed on account of hearing a noise in the night, (the previous ghost?) or the house guest piano – came with the house – vibrating unseen, both go and investigate. We as observers are on the slow smooth ghostly pace tracking them and stop outside the room. Rooney Mara draped in a towel stands beyond the doorway as C walks the length of the room to explore. This is the living room with the old piano still intact and itself a companion piece to the film in oblique ways. On one occasion it is a dismembered upturned cabinet with its keys still there, barely recognisable but repairable, for anyone with a liking to play something, say Beethovens 9th.
Ghost in the House
When they return to bed M’s heart beating fast. David Lowery cleverly remains here with an overhead shot as they both return to each other’s space and join up in sharing their life’s existence to almost the point they breathe together at the same pace and heartbeats are in concert. It has an effecting balancing within the whole locality as well as a very important persuasive points this unified couple with such hope abroad. It is such a strong and delicate subtle and delicious scene it lets you absorb its connotations and later place them back into the story. Brilliance of a kind. Supremely well acted as well it is a powerful force of the life affirmation in the relationship. A ghost will not trouble them. You will encounter some issues of these. Small cases full of big dreams. Intensity. Complexity. Surreality. Verity. Impossibility.
The importance of the assessment of life and the creative notion of another world begin where someone prefers to live.
There is only one resolved thing. The present. Neither the future or past can be resolved as we trustingly use memory to embark on journeys of remembrance and formation of reality. The questions keep coming. How has the past concealed such important facts? The facts that determined, while not looking, a life and future. They seem obvious truths but they never occurred to be anyones making. Love existing in places in never looked. Absent or in a void time was wasted, believed in and never saw through.
Reflection and light is spectral. I organises sight and who we are and shows to others us. The Ghost is in sight as we are in darkness not present in the presented world now visited but part of its recollection. The feeling of being there is real because the emotional state has gone beyond the physical messages. They are not suppressed but surpassed and para-normality, a sense of altered state, is how The Ghost Story perpetuates a vision gone and unsettled. You are just a visitor with only part of the software codes that are in many others hands. Their codes differ and where they link is found meaning and the whole is realised but it’s gaps too are seen as vast empty spaces. The film reveals a pattern and the void. No one has a complete code. Only each will fit and link with the whole as that is the uniformity we share but do not control.
It compares and contrast well with the last memorable Ghost story I really liked Under the Shadow. Similarly the tight reliance on a few characters and the participation of the audience in dissembling the psychological elements and triggers which evoke a personal intimate portrait of someone at the edge of their perception of life. We are here asked to go with the rally M makes as she is so young and will her on. Similarly the female lead in Under the Shadow is in crisis and she internalises it to such a degree she turns her daughter into a powerful spirit who is really in control. But who is in control. Perceptions are what dement her placing new zones of reality in her intellectual capacity to self perceive.
Form of the narrative
From the beginning this is a story of a couple separated by death. Casey Affleck is of course the Ghost. To take us from the beginning and the split of the loving relationship we see developing, manifest, we are taken into several layers of the sense of place and location by previous and future occupancy of the small piece of land they presently occupy. The principle one ocourse being M and C.
With an explanation to follow of the relationship and ultimate separation between M and C with the film, showing us they profundity of the new irrevocable relationship – however stagnant or in limbo – we see other people in the second half of the film who come to live there. As implied elsewhere the Spanish speaking family could have been previous occupants. There is a shared house occupancy which is contemporaneous of a group of young people with an older set of cultural disseminators. They are the generation – here in Northern Ireland they are post conflict thirty, forty something, ‘normal’ folk rejecting religion as it is a burden too far, who neverthelesssee in themselves a spiritual dimension nothing speaks to them on. Reliance on ‘adventure’ through mind camps at pseudo intellectual festivals, incorporating everything back into the beat poets and tangentially different racial perspectives right through to the cloak and dagger of science, chemistry and cosmology such as Dr Grof and experiments with oneself is the landscape.
Here we have another piece of cultural visitation made eloquently and volubly by a prognosticator who in the shared house at a point in the discussions creates a monologue of totemic breadth while counterpointing the intangibility of a mixed opinion while individual thought (Virginia Wolff enlightenment again) is beyond everyday expression and meaning which shows languages limits. It’s like the search for liberty itself. Liberty is silence. The prognosticator is another giant positive aspect of this film’s trajectory. The meaning being in the above analysis of its own unalterable material restraint and restriction. So the layers alternate and combine to show the second half after this first piece of the story emerges. This s like a diaphragm of the body of the piece.
When we see M return home in the earliest post death period and see her adjustment move gradually, she is able to leave her door unlocked and a friend comes into the house. She leaves on the living room table a condolence pie. Observed in every action by C Who is standing alongside. The pastry crusted pie is cooked and chilled and covered in silver foil with a note C reads. You are about to witness an extraordinary piece of Cinema. In single take.
M returns shortly afterwards and we have one of the most beautifully crafted scenes of all as M discovers this gift. The extraordinary passage was done twice to arrive at what we witness. The lighting is superb and we see the 4:3 format provide a framing of the notion of grief. From M’s perspective she is responding to a good will gift. C is static and his presence in frame has a bizarre intimacy. Loss on both sides of life. When David Lowery filmed this he was aware of what he wanted from it in terms of dealing with grief but was unaware of reactions it would present or indeed his own. It is of such a forceful affecting mechanical, subjective, composition it tears pages out of the manual of how grief is present and dealt with. There is nothing like it and David Lowery I believe was totally unexpectedly thrown by the effect it makes. The simplicity delivers enormous value for the passage known to almost everyone of process and holding onto a person without abandoning them in the passage through their loss. Internally the scene also contains a love of an entirely invisible remaining link shown never ending. It is mesmerising, spellbinding, hypnotic and compelling.
Without going too far into it, the observance is a fixed frame of this location. Its essence of homeliness still intact and reinforced in its simplicity and we are able to ingest the character of M while sharing her current state. It is unnerving and is an essay on the life, life itself. Goodness is everywhere. It can be taken at the stride and in balance. No references are immediately at hand as she is struck by loneliness. You cannot imagine what she is thinking but David Lowery allows multiple interpretations on the factual life, the reality, the past and present in a reorganised place is encapsulated, virtually incontrovertible and not a place any what to be in. The condolence pie has many sweet and sour notes like life itself. It must not be seen as manna from heaven but a part of the passage through. Sweetness and tart combine unbelievably. Food also is life. David Lowery allows this to prove a point in a seminal way and for it to be impactive, providing you with the choice of taking or leaving its core, as it is intensely complex and as multi-tonal as to be as important a piece of Cinema you wish it to be. It’s about you or versions of you as you may have been or shall become. C sees it all. Essentially it provides intangible truth people do not have access to. This never happens.
I am utterly astounded at how this no-budget movie has in its basic feature film length taken on polarities of our lives as widely, rich, intoxicating as showing for example, the history of the USA and the individual practices and compliances that combine, combined to create the present. The past is visited in the vertical thin pinhooking of a place in Texas. Bosque County. Two principle characters perform the Everyman embodiment of highly normal and undemanding ambitions for themselves as people the future comes from. They are unaware of the agonies arbitrarily ahead of them which they gladly accept for alternatives are rare and we are likewise propelled into a set of new observations which cause you to question the creation and our very existence in this universal dream. The management of life is so finely balanced and M, Rooney Mara, whose playing is immersive and intensely readable, is incredibly persuasive. Casey Affleck as C, is the Everyman with which the connections in the intimate compass, so important and fundamental are joined. They are on the cusp of a beginning and actually on a mission to trade up and ship out of the Texas location they are in; the ideal is itself not sufficient it would appear, and the plans fall apart. The single storey longhouse has a verandah and a connecting rooms layout with all the basic needs and more. The tone is set by a small upright piano which has a sky of thoughts and melodies in its 88 keys.
Conclusion ##### 5
This is an astonishing film.
It depends so much on your rallying to its central characters two lives. The place of other personalities are just that. Personalities they have no connection with other than the third character, the place. Yet the place could be anywhere. There could be multiple variations of this and I really hope it happens. Taking the basic premise of people in a location which is their locality of living could be set in China, South Korea. France or Ireland. Anywhere basically. It takes just two matched people and a place which – inevitably – has its own back story. It’s like walking on a Donegal beach and forgetting the sand has been hewn from famine victims bones as well as layers of rock and cascading waves. Every step is on someone else’s place and it is to be taken at the deliverance given by God without hurt or harm. The point is to take those steps unfearful. C is a ghost who retains fear and exercises it and implodes at times.
The film is just astonishing and it is by degrees as evocative as Virginia Wolff’s visionary, exponentially multifaceted, personal intellectual integration with life which she held up and outside looking back down into meaning as seen for herself and how others perceived meaning.
9 August 2017
A GHOST STORY will screen at QFT from Friday 11th August 2017 until Thursday 24th August 2017.
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